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Welcome to Connoisseur Corner - Luxe Consulting and Executive Services

Marty Feldmann, The Connoisseur, is the highly sought after consultant who assists businesses and individual clients with the acquisition of the finer things life has to offer. Whether you are planning a weekend getaway to wine country, selecting audio equipment to outfit your home, planning your dream vacation or purchasing your ultimate transportation, Marty is your personal connection to the good life…

Marty can be contacted at: 916.952.9529 Marty@ConnoisseurCorner.com

7/31/08

The Fleming’s 100


The Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar restaurant chain was started in Newport Beach, California in 1998. There are now over 50 locations from coast to coast and they offer very good food and an excellent dining experience.

But what set’s Fleming’s apart? What makes these restaurants unique?

The Fleming’s 100. (You wine aficionados out there will like this one...)

A major part of the wine program at Fleming’s is a collection of 100 wines available by the glass. Put together each year by Director of Wine Marian Jansen op de Haar, the list consists of 70 national selections along with 30 chosen by the local Wine Managers to “reflect regional tastes”. Various flights from this list are available for tasting, a great way to experiment with new wines. The 100 is also supplemented by a reserve list of nearly 100 wines available by the bottle only.
And now for the really cool twist..!

Each year you have a chance to win the Fleming’s 100..! This consists of a bottle of each wine from the national 70 list, along with another 30 bottles chosen to suit your palette, upon consultation with Ms. Jansen op de Haar. To top it all off, a wine storage refrigerator is included..! Simply enter the drawing and hope you are the lucky winner.

Nice..!

This all has made me rather thirsty. Maybe I’ll win…!

7/29/08

What the Heck is a Malbec..?

A: a furry nocturnal critter from the Australian outback.

B: a type of transmission from early 60’s sports cars.

C: a character featured in several works of Shakespeare.

D: a variety of grape originating from France as one of the six allowed in Bordeaux red wine blends, but currently gaining popularity as Argentina’s signature wine.

The answer of course, is “D” – the grape.

Malbec has enjoyed a renaissance the past several years. The reason: It has found a home…

Despite its origins in France, the Malbec varietal has little to no momentum in that country. In the mid-50’s frost killed almost three-quarters of the crop, and it has never regained prominence. Cahors, in the southwest of France is the main growing region in that country now, where Malbec is generally known as Auxerrois or Côt Noir.

While it is also grown in Australia and the United States, the true Malbec hotspot is in South America.

Long known for the Tango, Gauchos and chimichurri sauce, Argentina and its Mendoza region in particular on the eastern side of the Andes mountain range has proven to be a harmonious match for the Malbec varietal. Several bodegas (wineries) including Altos Las Hormigas, San Pedro de Yacochuya and Bodega Norton are turning out excellent product. These Argentinean bottles are even showing the ability to age nicely.

Malbec wines are generally medium to full-bodied and characterized by a plum and blackberry jam quality along with hints of anise and earth components and hearty tannins. A bottle pairs well with steaks, but also has the backbone to work with spicier foods such as Indian, Mexican and Cajun.

For the full experience, try a grilled steak topped with some chimichurri sauce, a side of roasted potato wedges and a bottle of an Argentinean Malbec. A meal fit for a true connoisseur..!

7/24/08

Simple Summer Sauce from the Garden

“Summertime…and growin’ herbs and veggies in the garden is easy.”

Not quite the actual Gershwin lyric, I know. And I am also cognizant of the fact that planting and maintaining a garden is not necessarily a simple task.

Along those lines, I must give my wife credit for diving in to a new garden this year. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs…you name it and it is growing out there. And with this bounty of incredible edibles, you have to cook recipes to take advantage.

Last night we came up with a simple, tasty and versatile sauce that I thought I should share. The only items not garden grown were the onion, broth and red pepper flakes.

Zucchini Tomato Sauce

· 3 Tsp Olive Oil
· 1 cup white onion – chopped
· 2-3 cloves garlic – sliced
· ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
· 2 cups cherry tomatoes – halved
· 2 cups zucchini – peeled and cubed to 1”
· 2 cups chicken broth
· Chopped fresh herbs to taste – we used basil, oregano and thyme
· Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and zucchini and cook another 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and reduce by a third. Transfer half of the sauce mix to a blender and puree. Return to the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally. Add fresh herbs, salt and pepper to taste.

We served the sauce over rice with slices of grilled chicken breast on top. It will also work wonderfully with fish, pork and pasta.

Experiment and enjoy..!

7/23/08

Quirky Cool Jazz Ladies

Everybody knows of Diana Krall, the hugely successful jazz singer-pianist that burst onto the scene in the mid-90s. I admit to being a fan, owning a few of her CDs and enjoying her elegant style.

But today we are looking elsewhere – it’s time to stretch our female jazz singer boundaries…

Both of these ladies have slightly unusual styles, but still manage to maintain the classic jazz sensibilities. Hard-core jazz aficionados and audiophiles are likely already among their fans, as these musicians tend to have a well recorded product to go along with their musical talents.

Canadian born Holly Cole recorded her first disc in 1989 along with bassist David Piltch and pianist Aaron Davis. The trio has gone on to release several CDs, jazzing up several genres including rock, country and show tunes. Her seminal work was 1995’s Temptation, based entirely on the songs of Tom Waits. This CD is longtime Connoisseur favorite and I highly recommended it as a great place to start if you want to hear some of Holly’s best work. Her current release, the self-titled Holly Cole, is garnering wide critical acclaim.

A few steps south of Canada, Chicago is home to Patricia Barber. Patricia grew up in a musical environment as both her parents were professional musicians. Her first CD, Split, was also released in 1989, which she has followed up with several excellent works. My recommendation for a starter would be Nightclub, an album of standards delivered in her own unique vocal and piano playing style.

There you have it, music fans. Fire up that stereo or mp3 player and try some quirky cool jazz…

7/22/08

Jerry Thomas – The Original Bartender


There are those of us out there that enjoy going to a fine restaurant or bar on occasion and having a nice cocktail or three and a bite to eat.

In fact, when sampling restaurants that I have not previously visited, I always make it a point to arrive earlier than the reservation requires so that I have time to belly-up to the bar. I want to take a few minutes to survey the premises, soak-in the atmosphere and introduce myself to that all important individual…

…the bartender.

Have you noticed how bartending is gaining in celebrity and status? It used to be the domain of the working student or aspiring actor – the position thought of as a steppingstone to a different future. This mindset is changing...

Now it seems like every third show you see on the specialty food channels has content related to mixology. Tending bar is being thought of as the basis for a career, which is certainly a good thing, as it serves to elevate the competency and creativity of those involved.

“In the beginning…”

So, who started this anyway? Who originated the art of tending bar – the show-time and the mixology?

Born in 1830 in Sackets Harbor, New York, Jeremiah P. Thomas learned his bartending craft in Connecticut and headed to California during the Gold Rush. In 1851 Jerry opened his own saloon back in New York City, but later traveled the country working in many cities including Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco and St. Louis. He became known as “The Professor” for his creativity and showmanship, essentially defining the craft of today’s bartender. His book, The Bar-Tender’s Guide (also titled How To Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion) was first published in 1862 and followed by several updates. Jerry Thomas, today thought of as the “father of American mixology”, passed away in 1885.

So the next time you see an entertaining bartender or receive that tasty cocktail, be sure to tip well, and then thank Jerry Thomas for making it all happen…

7/18/08

Russian Mega-Yacht “A”


Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko has a new toy..!

A

Yep, that’s it…!

Simply named “A” after his wife Aleksandra, this 390-foot ship is now prowling the oceans.

Designed by Philippe Starck and built by famed shipbuilder Blohm & Voss, it’s safe to say that this yacht looks like nothing else on the water.

A definite luxury playground, there are two pools aboard, one of which has a glass bottom and can be viewed from the room underneath. There are also six full guest cabins as well as room for up to 42 crew members.

For a cool $400 million, you can have one too…

Additional pictures are available at Monaco Eye.

7/17/08

Celia Masyczek – A Napa Star


Let me get this out of the way first…

The last name is pronounced ma-CHESS-key.

Celia had no choice. Born in Medford Oregon, her father was an avid wine collector as well as a home winemaker, so she was destined to end up in the wine industry. Of course that’s not really true, but she did anyway…

She began as many California wine industry glitterati do, by earning the requisite degree from the Enology Department at U. C. Davis. Post graduation saw Celia travel to various wine regions in the states, as well as spending time in New Zealand and Australia. Returning to Napa, she honed her skills with the Silverado and Robert Pepi wineries before setting out on her own as an independent winemaking consultant.

“Can you get a cab around here..?”

If I may proclaim at this time, Celia Masyczek knows her Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Although she works with many varietals, Cabernet is definitely her specialty. The Connoisseur has sampled a few and they have all been excellent examples of this Napa fave.

Currently Celia consults with several Napa wineries and is turning out some stellar wines. Husic Vineyards, Rocca Family Vineyards, D.R. Stephens, Keever Vineyards and Scarecrow are a few of the producers benefiting from her talents.

As is fitting for a winemaker of such skill, Celia has now begun to produce her own wines under the name Corra (a Celtic deity of prophecy). A 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc are her first releases. Should you happen to find either of these, we highly recommend you don’t pass them up!

7/15/08

Blu-ray and Hi-def Audio



Yeah, yeah, yeah… So, by now we know that Blu-ray won the Hi-definition format wars. Hi-definition is an obvious and welcome improvement to what we see, but what about the sounds we hear?

What about our ears? What do they get out of this deal..?

Well, there is good news..! Your ears will be happy, and I’m not talking diamond earrings!

Here is a quick primer – a few notes to help clear a little fog. I will get into more detail in future discussions…

Good: Dolby Digital and DTS – these are the two audio formats that you are familiar with from current DVDs – the standard definition type. They are referred to as lossy formats, meaning that they are compressed and have bits missing from the original studio recording.

Note: This compression and removal of bits was done so that the audio would fit on the DVD discs along with the video. Blu-ray discs, compared to DVD, have a significantly greater storage capacity; this enables the studios to include the Hi-definition video files as well as the new audio files.

Better: Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD High Resolution – Here you have what are essentially improved versions of the above mentioned formats. They have higher bit rates and more efficient compression for better detail, but they still are not equivalent to the original studio recording.

Best: Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio – Both of these formats are considered lossless, meaning that all the bits from the original studio recording are present. There is a type of compression going on, but when your home theater gear plays it back, it uncompresses and all the original sound bits are accounted for. Just as hi-definition video looks substantially better than standard definition, there is a marked improvement in audio quality here.

As for that original soundtrack recording, it is what is referred to as the PCM track (pulse-code modulation). This is an exact mirror-image duplication of what the studio engineer produced – no compression or removal of sound bits is involved. You could almost think of PCM as the “best of the best”.

There you have it folks, a quick guide to soundtrack audio on Blu-ray discs. More details will follow, but for now, happy listening and let those ears enjoy…

7/11/08

Connoisseur Tips and Tricks

I occasionally run across neat little tips and tricks that trip my cleverness meter. I thought I would take a moment and share some of these with you. Today’s tips are all kitchen / cooking related…

The first tip is actually a gadget. One of the Connoisseur’s pet peeves is how the brown sugar gets hard as a rock when in storage. The “tip” is to use this little gadget from Sur La Table called the Brown Sugar Saver. A ceramic disk, you simply soak it in water for 10 to 15 minutes, pat it dry and then place in the brown sugar container. No more rock hard sugar.

Next tip - time for the sweet-tooth...

Of course we much prefer homemade frosting on our cakes. Unfortunately sometimes you may be in a hurry and need the convenience. If that’s the case, here’s how you can double your money and improve the product. Simply whip the store-bought frosting with your mixer for a few minutes. You will find that it can double in size. You can frost more cake and it will be a smidge lighter in taste and texture.

…and now for the last tip of the day. (drum roll please…)

I LOVE PIZZA..!

No, that’s not a tip, just a statement of fact. But it does get me to this… Leftover pizza. If you want it heated, you figure you have two choices: turn on the oven and heat the kitchen up just for a few slices of pie, or use the microwave and enjoy that soggy crust. Which shall it be..?

Neither, I say…

Simply grab the right-sized non-stick pan from your cupboard and plop it on the stove over medium-low heat. Add the slice or so of pie that you are craving, and heat. The pizza will warm through, the crust will retain its crunch and the entire kitchen won’t heat up 10 degrees as a hot oven tends to do.

Voilà..!

Now go forth with your newfound wisdom and live well…

7/10/08

DirecTV Joins VOD War

Satellite provider DirecTV has officially launched their video on demand service, available to all current customers or future clients.

Known as DirecTV on Demand, the service has been in beta testing for several months, but as of the end of June it is now in final form for all subscribers. This puts the nation’s largest satellite provider in good position to do battle with Comcast and other rivals for the public dollar.

So, what exactly does DirecTV on Demand get me..?

According to the company, currently more than 4,000 standard definition and HD titles are available for download. These include TV series, movies and various specialty programming shows such as music, history, education, etc. Many of these programs are free, while some remain in a pay-per-view format.

You will need one of DirecTV’s HD DVR units to participate. Also required will be a broadband high-speed internet connection, as most titles will be downloaded over the internet as opposed to satellite.

We look forward to the VOD competition over the coming years. There are quite a few participants in the battle and in the long run the consumer will benefit because of this. Keep in mind though, that if you are expecting Blu-ray quality sound and video for the movies, you’re not going to see it – stick to the actual discs for now until VOD technology takes the next step.

Also note that while “on demand” may imply that you can instantly watch your selection, you do have to wait for a percentage of the material to download before you can begin viewing.

If you are already a DirecTV subscriber, this is a no-brainer to sign up for. Demand the video of your choice and enjoy..!

7/7/08

BMW’s 2009 7 Series



BMW has released pictures and information on the new 2009 7 series prior to its official debut at the Paris auto show.

And the Connoisseur’s first official thought is…

Hmmm…

I can’t say that I am blown away by the pictures. In all honesty I was expecting a bit more than a mildly evolutionary visual change. I would have to believe that the controversy over the previous generation’s Bangle-ized lines scared the designers into a conservative school of thought. Final judgment will be withheld until an in-person viewing, but the early opinion is that it won’t be able to equal the visual presence of its chief rival, the recently updated Mercedes S-class. I was hoping for a bit more influence from the CS show car.

The interior, on the other hand, looks to have moved in the proper direction. The iDrive screen is now larger and better integrated into the dash and the driver’s seat controls are no longer obnoxiously positioned on the center tunnel. All-in-all this cabin looks to be a good place to conduct the business of driving.

The really good news for this 7 is actually 8… cylinders, that is!

Under the bonnet will reside BMW’s new 400-hp twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 that recently debuted in the X6. More powerful and more efficient than the outgoing unit, this powerplant should provide plenty of exhilaration for the big sedan.

New suspension bits as well as a host of techno-wizardry will keep the vehicle dynamics in check. Of note is something called Integral Active Steering – essentially speed-sensitive rear-wheel steering that will be included in the Sport package.

The 750i and 750Li (long wheelbase) will arrive in dealerships in a few months. Take a look and see if you are inclined to…count to seven.

7/5/08

Armani Chocolates – Armani Pens



Clothing, fashion, perfume, televisions and roller skates… Is nothing off limits to Giorgio Armani..?

Apparently not…

Let’s visit the world of gourmet chocolates as well as designer pens.

The Armani chocolates are a line of dark, milk or white chocolate pralines in different flavors using only what is described as the “world’s best cacao”. These are available from Armani Dolci stores located in Milan, Hong Kong, Dubai and elsewhere. Other available items include exotic flavored bars of chocolate as well as chocolate covered almonds.

As for the pens, Armani is teaming up with pen maker Tibaldi – yes, they’re Italian as well – to produce a line of fine writing instruments. They will be available in fountain, rollerball and ballpoint versions. However, you may want to move quickly, as only 190 copies of each style will be made.

Next on the agenda, Armani Hotels and Resorts

7/2/08

Vacation Disconnect

What’s the first thing you do when you reach your vacation destination? Are you making calls on your cell phone, checking email on your “crackberry”, or running around looking for a wireless hotspot for the laptop?

Vacationleisure time away from work devoted to rest or pleasure

Are you noticing the increasing amount of people at Resorts that seem to be doing work, rather than getting away from it? (I confess to occasional guilt here.) One gets the distinct impression that many people define a vacation as a brief opportunity to work in nicer surroundings – disconnecting from vacation as opposed to disconnecting from work.

Yeah, I know… It’s all about the rat-race and getting to the top of the ladder. Or is it..?

A doctor once told me that 80% of all the cases he deals with are in some way stress related. Your physical and mental health and well-being do seem to require a separation from stress. There truly is a need to shut it down – to rest, relax and recharge.

Fortunately several resorts are now catering to this philosophy in a big way. An intentional lack of phones, televisions, internet and the like force the issue of separation for relaxation. Here are a few that we like…

Petit St. Vincent – A privately owned Caribbean island in the Grenadines. The staff is called by the raising of the yellow flag.

Kona Village Resort – Go to this resort on the big island for your own private Hale and a getaway Polynesian experience.

Le Prieuré d’Orsan – This 6-room getaway in the Loire Valley in France was actually a monastery built in 1107.

Tiamo – Located on South Andros Island in the Bahamas, eleven private beachside bungalows are surrounded by a tropical paradise.

Now go chill, rest and relax – connect with your vacation and disconnect from stress..!

7/1/08

New NSX at the Ring?


In 1990 Honda’s first mid-engined, v6 powered NSX sports cars rolled off the assembly line and took the exotic super-car world by storm. The racing technology, light weight, build quality and reliability sent Ferrari scrambling for improvement.

Production of the NSX ceased in 2005, but Honda promised a replacement in the coming years.

Last year at the Detroit Auto Show, Acura premiered the Advanced Sports Car Concept (pictured above). Would this be a preview of the next generation NSX..?

It looks as though this question will soon be answered. A camouflaged prototype caught by spy photographers running laps at the Nurburgring bears many similarities to the Acura show car.

What we know at this time is that the NSX will have a V10 engine producing in the neighborhood of 550 horsepower. Also expect a version of Honda’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive System to send power to all four corners. Insiders say that Honda is targeting the Nissan GT-R’s performance numbers at the Ring.

We expect a 2009 debut as a 2010 model. Can Honda recapture the magic of the first NSX? We can’t wait to press the start button and find out..!